3 Ways to Get Your Community to Think About Death In A New Light

Posted March 27, 2019

5 min read

“Even though humans have a 100 percent mortality rate, less than 30 percent of adults do any end-of-life planning,” says Gail Rubin, a Certified Thanatologist who is a pioneering death educator who works with companies to connect with baby boomers concerned about end-of-life issues.

Albuquerque Business First recently named her one of their 2019 Women of Influence. A featured speaker at TEDxABQ in 2015, she’s the author of three books on end-of-life issues, including A GOOD GOODBYE: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and KICKING THE BUCKET LIST: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things to Do Before You Die. She’s also a Certified Funeral Celebrant and coordinator of the Before I Die New Mexico Festival.

The majority of the general public continues to drag their feet on preneed funeral planning—and funeral professionals know this all too well.

Luckily, Gail says this is shifting. “The tide is turning, as the Silver Tsunami of Baby Boomers prepares to crash on the shore of mortality. Like everything they’ve influenced over the course of their lives, Baby Boomers are changing the conversation about death and dying,” she explains.

Considering that shift, here are three ways you can get families in your community more comfortable with thinking about, and talking about, death and dying:

1. Consider Working with Local Death Doulas

“It’s amazing how many women–and yes, it’s almost always women–are becoming Death Doulas,” says Gail. Since these doulas are trained to help people prepare to approach their own deaths, physically, emotionally and spiritually, avoid thinking of them as “competition.”

“They may actually feed business to funeral homes that are accepting and flexible. Doulas encourage families to become involved with the process of witnessing death and dying, and holding onto the body before disposition–watching, washing and dressing their loved ones,” Gail explains.

You can find local Death Doulas through national organizations such as The International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA), International Doulagivers Institute, Lifespan Doula Association (LDA), and the National End-of-Life Doula Alliance (NEDA). They offer certification programs and directories of certified Death Doulas that you can considering partnering with.

2. Connect With Local Death Café Hosts

Since it started in September 2011, more than 7,700 Death Cafes have been held in 65 countries around the world (as of February 2019). They can be another opportunity for funeral professionals who want to help educate and inform people craving more knowledge about death and dying.

“In a cruel irony, Jon Underwood, founder of the Death Café movement, died unexpectedly at the age of 44 on June 27, 2017. He had a brain hemorrhage from undiagnosed leukemia. His mother Sue Barsky Reid and sister Jools Barsky continue to run the website and the movement continues to build,” adds Gail. “Despite Jon’s unexpected death, I still believe, as Jon did, just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about death won’t make you dead.” Gail explains the guidelines for holding a Death Café, which include:

  • Offer events on a not for profit basis, either free or with donations from participants.
  • The space is respectful, accessible to all, and conversations are considered confidential.
  • The conversation is led by participants. It is against Death Café guidelines to lead people to any belief or conclusion, product or course of action. That means no selling!
  • Always offer food and drink – coffee, tea, cake, and cookies are often served. You might also offer fruit, nuts, popcorn and other gluten-free alternative refreshments.

Consider reaching out and offering to host at one of your reception centers. Have staff participate in honest, authentic conversations. After all, you really are a resource of information for those who will attend. “You can make valuable connections in these conversations,” adds Gail. Find existing local Death Café hosts through the movement’s website, www.DeathCafe.com.

3. Consider Hosting A One-Day Before I Die Festival

Before I Die Festivals foster reflection about how we—as a society and as individuals—address death and dying. “By providing space and opportunities to openly discuss end-of-life issues, we can improve the number of those who plan ahead and take actions to address our mortality,” adds Gail.

As part of the festival, funeral homes and festival sponsors can collect leads from event attendees through a drawing to win a valuable prize. Prizes could include a cremation, a burial plot or niche, a casket or urn, and other goods or services you may provide. Festival events can include behind-the-scenes tours, panel discussions and speakers on a range of end-of-life-related topics, movies, art shows, poetry, and field trips. Preneed sales staff can follow up with attendees after the festival.

The 2018 Before I Die New Mexico Festival that Gail coordinated drew 685 participants to 32 events over six days. It won the 2019 KIP (Keeping It Personal) Award for Events from the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA). Gail has also created a one-day festival template based upon the award-winning, outside-the-box Festival events she has coordinated.

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